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Vulnerabilities / Threats

3/1/2012
01:37 PM
Eric  Lundquist
Eric Lundquist
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10 Lessons From RSA Security Conference

Mobile, social, and cloud computing have changed the security equation.

This year's RSA Security Conference, which wraps up this week, was one of the liveliest in the event's 21-year history. The increasing sophistication of hackers and visibility of data breaches (including one on the conference's namesake company last year) have brought information security back to the main stage.

This year's event featured many product introductions and new security practices--see our special RSA report--but what follows are the top 10 lessons and trends I took away (in reverse order).

10. Use social tools to create a secure advantage. Conferences, and in particular security conferences, may operate best in face-to-face mode. But industry experts want to continue their discussions around new threats and defenses year-round. The malicious hackers have their secure digital conversation areas. The white hacks would like their secure areas as well … there may be some going on right now by invitation only.

RSA CEO Art Coviello noted in his keynote address that information needed to prevent attacks is spreading virally in social networks, not "from the top down." Said Coviello: "Something good here is starting to happen."

9. A return to MAD isn't out of the question. During the Cold War, the U.S. and Soviet Union engaged in a nuclear game of mutually assured destruction: You attack us, we attack you twice over. I didn't find any RSA panels on digital MAD, but on the conference floor and nearby lounges there was talk of an offensive approach to digital cyberattacks from unfriendly nations. These are definitely private discussions, but there's a recognition that just trying to shore up digital defenses can be a zero sum game.

8. Hackers are creating their own tiers. You now have individual hackers, organized criminal groups, hackers with a political agenda, and hackers financed and trained by nation states. Each group has its own agenda, methods, and targets.

7. Detect "low-and-slow" APTs. "Under the radar" advanced persistent threats take place over time and in a manner that may not set off alarms. For example, attackers are monitoring social networks such as Facebook and Twitter for information they can use to gain an upper hand. And Chinese hackers are alleged to have had widespread access to the corporate network of Nortel Networks for nearly a decade, using passwords stolen from top executives to download the company's intellectual property. Expect low-and-slow APT mitigation to be a big topic over the coming years.

6. The new (or revived) mantra: defense in tiers. In a manner similar to the development of tiered storage, security tiering is becoming more of a priority. This "big sweep" thinking requires companies to careful scrutinize their assets and lock them down within security levels depending on value and need for access. This is a big project, or multiple projects, but it's well worth the effort.

5. Even the most secure companies get hacked. RSA (the conference) tries to maintain an arm's length distance from RSA (the company), which is part of the EMC empire. Just about a year ago, RSA the company suffered a severe--and particularly for a security company, embarrassing--hack. To their credit, RSA executives didn't drift into corporate speak during discussions of the hack at this year's conference. They used it as a lesson in the need for constant vigilance.

4. The shift is on to attacks focusing on intellectual property. Plenty of individuals and organized crime groups would still like to steal your credit card information, but as illustrated in the Nortel example mentioned above, attacks seeking companies' intellectual property are on the rise. The attacks come from competitors, sophisticated crime groups, and nation states. CIOs who have spent their careers securing financial and personal data need to turn their attention to their companies' IP crown jewels.

3. The analysis of big data will help create a new security model. Every conference keynote these days has to make some mention of big data. Security executives can apply new analytic techniques to big data. For example, big data analysis could detect multiple attacks on a customer database followed by attempts to access credit card tables for users whose information was breached in the database. The credit card information would then be used to alert the cardholders and the credit organizations to the breach in real time. Sophisticated break-ins require data analysis at a level not previously seen in the security industry.

2. Protect the data, not the device. This idea has been around for a while, but the influx of smartphones and tablets make data protection ever-more important. Those protections range from data encryption to sandboxing areas on a device with sensitive data to making secure (essentially creating a secure virtual private network at the application level instead of the device level) an integral part of an application.

1. The borderless enterprise is here. The influx of consumer devices into companies and the dispersed, mobile workforce has made constructing a perimeter defense increasingly difficult. Enter mobile device management, featuring platforms from vendors such as Good Technology and ForeScout. The RSA attendees I spoke with have moved mobile security to the top of their IT security agenda.

Eric Lundquist,
VP and Editorial Analyst, InformationWeek
[email protected]

The effort to achieve and maintain compliance with Sarbanes-Oxley requirements remains one of the primary drivers behind many IT security initiatives. In our Security Via SOX Compliance report, we share 10 best practices to meet SOX security-related requirements and help ensure you'll pass your next compliance audit. (Free registration required.)

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